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Originally published April 13, 2013 at 8:04 PM | Page modified April 13, 2013 at 8:37 PM

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Seattle Storm enters training camp with major roster issues

Seattle (16-18 last season) can't hide the fact it's rebuilding, now that Sue Bird and Lauren Jackson won't play for them.

Seattle Times staff reporter

Monday

WNBA draft, 5 p.m., ESPN2

• Phoenix has the No. 1 overall pick; the Storm has the No. 6 pick.

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Personally contacting teammates was one of the hardest things Sue Bird has done.

Seattle played plenty of WNBA games without MVP center Lauren Jackson in the past due to various injuries and obligations with her Australian Olympic team. But Bird?

A seven-time WNBA All-Star, Bird has missed 19 games in her 11-year career. Electing to undergo left knee surgery May 9, the decorated point guard will miss the entire 2013 season, along with Jackson (hamstring) and center Ann Wauters (personal).

"I learned to take care of my body at an early age, but unfortunately some things you have no control over," Bird said via email. She has played year-round since being selected No. 1 overall by Seattle in 2002, winning two WNBA titles, four EuroLeague championships and three Olympic gold medals.

"I would much rather not be having these surgeries, but you have to play the hand (you're) dealt," Bird wrote. "If it means I can keep playing for the next 4 or 5 years, so be it. It could be easy to let this kind of thing get you down, so I just try to approach it all with a positive attitude."

Free agent Katie Smith, a Storm starter last season, joined New York. Polish center Ewelina Kobryn is questionable to return because of her sister's summer wedding. Free agent Svetlana Abrosimova isn't expected to be re-signed.

That leaves two players from Seattle's 2010 WNBA championship team — guard Tanisha Wright and forward Camille Little.

"This whole Sue and Lauren thing has really thrown me off," said Tina Thompson, a 16-year WNBA veteran. "My whole intent of signing a two-year deal was knowing in the second year our team would be completely intact. So, it bothers me that they're not going to play. ... I've played a long time and I don't mentally feel like I'm in a space of rebuilding."

Seattle (16-18 last season) can't hide the fact it's doing exactly that — rebuilding. Or, more accurately, patching the roof in a downpour, an unexpected scenario after an injury-plagued 2012 season left the Storm one bucket from the Western Conference finals.

The plan among the veteran team was to return in 2013 healthier to make a championship run. Instead, Brian Agler, the team's coach and general manager, is without three starters. And despite having the sixth, 18th and 30th overall picks in Monday's WNBA draft, he probably won't find the immediate replacements among the pool of college graduates.

Seattle likely will have its most fluid roster rotation since its inception in 2000. Agler is entertaining trade offers and expects to heavily utilize the league's waiver wire once training camp opens May 5. Teams are limited to 11-player rosters when the season begins May 24.

The most glaring need for Seattle is offense. The Storm averaged 71.2 points last season, second-worst in the league. Bird was the leading scorer (12.2 points) while Jackson, the franchise's all-time leader (18.9), was the team's third-leading scorer (10.2) last year. Wauters was fourth, averaging 9.6 points.

Little is the top returning scorer (11.3) and rebounder (5.1). Forward Shekinna Stricklen, who played in Turkey this offseason, is expected to contribute more offensively after averaging 8.0 points and 4.3 rebounds as a rookie.

Among draft prospects, Georgetown guard Sugar Rodgers is the most offensively explosive outside of headliners Brittney Griner, Elena Delle Donne and Skylar Diggins. Rodgers ranked fourth in the NCAA in scoring (22.9 points).

For size, Agler could take one of the top posts like Kelsey Bone (Texas A&M), Tianna Hawkins (Maryland), Kayla Alexander (Syracuse) or Toni Young (Oklahoma State).

"We've also got to think about selecting a player we are confident is going to be a part of our organization for a long period of time," Agler said. "The way our league is now, most of the rookies are projects."

Outside of production, Jackson and Bird were also locker-room leaders. That responsibility is now on Little and Wright.

"It's a great opportunity for myself and Camille to really shine," said Wright, a 2005 Storm draft pick. "Camille and I have had great overseas careers where we're relied upon much more heavily than we are here in the states. So, for us to step up to that kind of plate and shoulder those types of things will be great for us."

But even Wright isn't healthy. She didn't play overseas due to left knee problems. Doctors advised her to avoid playing until last week. Training camp will be her first real test to see if she can play the season without needing surgery.

"I'm not 100 percent, but 100 times better than I was this past summer," said Wright, who's missed only five games in her career.

Jackson's salary doesn't count against the Storm's $913,000 cap, but Bird's $107,500 does. Financially restricted, Agler made key free-agent signings in point guard Temeka Johnson, guard Noelle Quinn, and center Nakia Sanford. Johnson, an eight-year veteran, won a championship with Phoenix in 2009.

The trio could easily move into the Storm's starting rotation.

"We understand we're going to be picked to finish last in the West because of the respect everybody has for Sue and Lauren," said Agler, whose team has made nine consecutive playoff appearances. "But we've got some people with big hearts in these veteran players,and they're competitive people. We're going to go into the season with a lot of confidence."

Jayda Evans: 206-464-2067 or jevans@seattletimes.com

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